Magic Kingdom Morning Touring in the Current Normal
We pick our morning up at 8:45am on Saturday, July 11th, 2020. It’s the first day that Magic Kingdom reopened to guests and we’re just about in the middle of the rope drop crowd headed up Main Street. Cast members, from cashiers inside the Emporium, to the Vice President of the Park, line the street to welcome us back. You couldn’t go much further than six feet without meeting a smile and a wave. Part One discussed what to expect from the arrival experience at Magic Kingdom.
Disney has gone well out of their way since announcing that they would reopen to try to convince the public that returning to their theme parks is “safe.” There is an entire portal on their site titled “Returning to the Magic.” It goes over all of the measures that they’ve undertaken to try to create as safe of an environment as possible. In reality, Disney has done just about everything possible to promote safety and reduce transmission. But also in reality, it probably isn’t enough. You don’t defeat an incredibly infectious disease by traveling across the country and spending the majority of your time enclosed in indoor spaces with thousands of other people. Add aging infrastructure, what has to be poor ventilation, and a lot of re-circulated, cooled air, and you’re basically doing everything that the CDC tells you is risky.
Fortunately, I’m in a relatively low-risk age group, live 15 minutes away, follow all of the rules and guidelines, and I obviously live alone. I also don’t do anything other than sit at my computer and go to Walt Disney World, so the chances of me spreading the virus to someone who otherwise wouldn’t get it are relatively low. Still, subjecting myself, and others, to the risks, is something that I’ve struggled with over the past couple few weeks. There hasn’t been much else to do.
I addressed some of my own thoughts in last week’s post titled, “The Bizarre Landscape of Visiting Walt Disney World Resorts.”
A lot of the focus on Walt Disney World’s reopening is whether or not physical distancing measures and mask-wearing are being enforced by cast members, and whether or not it’s “working.” Based on a very limited sample size of two days, I can say with some confidence that the answer is both yes and no. The vast majority of people wear their masks properly most of the time. But a lot of people also don’t wear their mask properly. As I sat there watching Enchanted Tiki Room, a gentleman two rows in front of me sat with his mask off during the whole show, occasionally taking a sip from his Coca-Cola bottle. A cast member stationed inside the small room looked on without saying anything. As far as I could tell, everyone else sat with their masks on.
I never personally heard anyone admonished for having their mask down or being told that they needed to stop and physically distance themselves from others as they walked around, mask-free, with their Mickey Ice Cream Bars or what have you. The couple in the front row on Splash Mountain purposefully took their masks off during the drop for the photo, before putting them back on immediately after. They had obviously planned that out long ago because they didn’t chat about it as our log rolled along. Apparently, Disney will delete your photo if you aren’t wearing your mask. In my case, it also means I lost my picture on Splash Mountain because it took it off my account as well. On other attractions, I never noticed anyone in the same vehicle as me taking their masks off during the ride.
Enforcement, and compliance, also seemed to wane as the day wore on. At 9:30am, when it was 85 degrees and people had been outside and masked up for 45 minutes, just about everyone had their masks up and around their noses and mouths. By 4pm, after six or seven hours of Florida heat and humidity, a lot more people were walking around with their masks down and bottles of water in their hands. By that time, staffing looked like it had been reduced by about 75% as most of those in pants and button-downs had gone home. Most of the guests had, too.
Social distancing in queues with clear markers on the ground is easy. It’s far more difficult, and occasionally impossible, to do so anywhere else. Even in the queues, you’ll eventually arrive at the front, where you’ll tell the cast member how many people are in your party. Most of the time, they won’t be more than a foot or two away from you. On some attractions, like Splash Mountain, you’ll pass by multiple people and cast members with just inches to spare as you head towards the loading area. The same is true in the queues. A lot of the focus has been on the plastic barriers that Disney installed in a number of queues. The reality is that the amount of barriers is minimal compared to the amount of queue that you’ll walk.
For example, here we are at the indoor portion of the queue for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. It certainly doesn’t look like it, but I’m standing on my “Please Wait Here” sticker, while the group ahead of me does the same. To our left, there are barriers in places, but ropes and garbage cans in others. One of the “Please Wait Here” markers is right at the entrance to the queue, where there probably aren’t six feet separating people. You can see the gentleman in red strolling in near the woman in the white shirt.
I’m not a doctor, so I don’t know how diseases work, but you would think that they could probably travel three inches above or below a plastic shield. This is not the NBA around me, but you can see that people’s eyes and noses are less than a foot underneath the dividers. Who is to say how much bacteria is sticking to the plastic and whether or not that’s filling the air. You’re out of luck with most kids on the “Please Don’t Touch” stickers that are about an inch wide.
Certainly, it does not make a tremendous amount of sense, from a safety standpoint, to visit a theme park at the moment. If it wasn’t my “job,” I wouldn’t be there, either. Based on the crowds that showed up during opening weekend, it seems like a lot of people shared that sentiment.
On the other hand, there is “literally” no Park Pass availability for annual passholders to visit any Park for the rest of July, or most weekends in August. So there is some amount of demand there. By the time all of the pictures/videos of empty queues and short waits circulate, more people from out-of-state may deem a trip worth what may or may not be the relatively low risk of visiting. On the other hand, the fact that Florida announced the highest number of new cases of any state at any time may be enough of a deterrent. Disney continues to actively advertise to Floridians. I couldn’t tell you if they’re running television commercials elsewhere. A lot of advertising is subliminal. Disney obviously owns ABC and FOX, among other networks. It’s unlikely that Disney is going to tell you that Disney is not the place to be. I’m probably the only website on the internet that actively campaigns against itself.
You can certainly take the pictures you see here, and what you read and hear elsewhere, into account when making your decision about whether it’s the right time to visit in your particular situation. I don’t have a definitive answer for you, other than I wouldn’t put my family on an airplane and travel to Florida to go to a theme park right now. Even if there wasn’t anybody else in line for Space Mountain at 4pm. But there is inherent risk in just about anything we do these days. Around here, the sentiment seems to be that people “feel” a lot safer at Disney World or Universal Studios than they do at a nearby grocery store. Personally, I’d rather be in and out of a store in 15 minutes, and pass by 12 to 15 people, than spend ten hours in a theme park surrounded by thousands.
Disney certainly deserves credit for trying to reopen as safely as possible. But visiting is something that’s inherently unsafe, which they basically tell you on all of the warning signs that you see and the waivers that you have to agree to when you book a Park Pass.
Speaking of Park Pass, availability for Passholders continues to worsen:
The first Saturday or Sunday with any availability whatsoever is the last Sunday in August. That’s seven weeks away. Even the first two Fridays are completely out of availability. Granted, the state of Florida is not exactly known for its sensibility, but the potential promise of short waits and low crowds seems to be enough to get people who have already paid for their admission to the Parks.
Just in case you’re wondering if it’s still me, there I am at the bottom:
Looking as cool as a cucumber.
You may notice these digital screens are both new and not entirely accurate. The Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover has not reopened at all since the Parks closed, and was also closed leading up to the 4-month closure. The sign says it’s open.
We do note that there are no traditional meet and greets currently available in the Parks. We’ll take a look at the cavalcades of characters that run up and down Main Street during the day instead. That’s in addition to some distanced characters waving from a variety of platforms. Magic Kingdom only has two “real” attractions closed – Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor and Enchanted Tales with Belle. All of the rides, and the other theater shows, remain operating.
Yes, Main Street Starbucks does still open with the Park.
Here’s a look at the crowd streaming in at 8:49am.
It’s not all that much different than what we would have seen last year in a picture from a similar location.
I had no expectations whatsoever on what I was going to be able to accomplish. My plan was to just show up and wait however long it took to do things and report back. After seeing wait times and crowds, we’d be able to form a cohesive plan.
From Part One, you’ll remember that I spent the first 25 minutes of the day outside at guest services, standing there as they tried to fix a ticket/Park Pass problem. The Park opened its gates at 8:18am, and at least a couple of popular attractions began operating shortly thereafter. The attractions didn’t post their first wait for the day until right at 9am, so we can’t base what was open on whether there was a posted wait for it. Often, the My Disney Experience app will start pushing wait times once attractions open. When I arrived at Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at 8:53am, the cast member exclaimed to the group getting in line in front of me that they were going around for at least a second time.
One potentially nice thing about the lack of Mickey’s Friendship Faire, and the Happily Ever After Fireworks, is the fact that the walkway through Cinderella Castle is always open. On your previous visits, you might have noticed that the doors through were typically closed or roped off because of the entertainers/fireworks.
At 8:50am, our usual path towards Mine Train is mostly clear. There are no ropes up because Disney does not want people to congregate. There is no Welcome Show other than the cast members waving as you walk inside.
Ahead is another instance where social distancing is a bit awkward. We’ve got a PhotoPass photographer taking pictures with the side of Cinderella Castle as the background. We’ll have to wait until they’re done before we’ll be able to keep six feet between us as we pass them. The same can probably be said for the welcome wave on the walk inside. It was nice, but the fact that they were all there meant that the sidewalk was basically off-limits because you couldn’t really walk behind them. It also narrowed the path going in because you were supposed to be six feet away from them as well, which then made it more difficult to keep your distance from other people. Add PhotoPass photographers on Main Street, and people stopping and lining up, and things become increasingly precarious. Of course, outside in face masks, they say there is a limited risk of infection.
Cinderella Castle, which is largely now repainted for next year’s 50th anniversary, is certainly vibrant. You have to factor in some amount of wear and tear over the next 25 years, I would guess. The pink definitely “pops” along with the dark blue and gold trim.
I don’t really have a strong opinion about the colors, other than the fact that it dates any photos I might try to re-use in the future. Obviously, Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party is cancelled in its entirety this year, but it wouldn’t be uncommon for me to use parade pictures from previous years in a guide for the event or something. Now, if the Castle is in the picture, and it isn’t bright pink, you’ll know something’s up. The same is true with the face mask situation and the current state of the queues etc. For the website’s capsule reviews of quick services, attractions, etc. I’m not sure if I should switch out some of the pictures for those that are now a little more depressing, only to then have to change them back once this is “all over.” It’s a pretty minor problem to toil over.
Disney acknowledges the fact that things are now “different.” I was at Chef Mickey’s, the resort’s most popular character meal, on the morning it reopened. Several other guests left after finding out that it would be character-free, or otherwise expressed disappointment to their servers. It makes some sense as Chef Mickey’s has been a character meal for the entire time that I’ve operated this website. It’s virtually impossible to keep up with all of the changes, even if you’re relatively on top of things.
I couldn’t tell if Mad Tea Party was open or not. There wasn’t anybody on it and it wasn’t spinning. It’s possible that it wasn’t set to open until right at 9am. They’re certainly ready for us if that’s the case. At Disney’s Animal Kingdom, we can expect them to let us in beginning at 8:30am. The rides likely won’t begin operating until 9am.
As we’ll see during our afternoon walk-around, the queue for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train wraps around the entire mountain, all along the back side of the attraction, and then winds itself all the way towards Be Our Guest Restaurant and then back towards the Carrousel.
You can see the markers on the ground, separating potential parties by six feet, with a hodgepodge of umbrellas up. The fact that the line isn’t backed up this far is certainly a good sign.
Up ahead, we only see a handful of people.
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh was staffed, but there was nobody in line and the vehicles weren’t yet running with no posted wait time. I’m not sure if you got in line now if they would start the thing up or if you’d have to wait until right at 9am. Nobody seemed interested either way. Having already been delayed by 25 minutes, and not really wanting to bug anybody, I didn’t walk up and ask.
There was basically no line for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train with everyone walking through the queue properly distanced and in masks.
This is 8:53am from within the Mine Train’s queue. This is about what you would expect to see if you were using the old Be Our Guest Breakfast trick to get ahead of the crowd heading to Mine Train. Be Our Guest doesn’t currently serve breakfast, with just the prix fixe menu offered for lunch and dinner. That will run you $62 per adult and $37 per child before tax and tip. There is no quick service lunch or a la carte options at the moment.
Once we get under cover, we run into our first barriers of the day.
Any of the interactive queue elements will be turned off. Disney replaced the digital game that was once here with these gemstones a year or more ago, but even it’s behind ropes now.
Disney doesn’t want you touching anything unnecessarily. It’s also in your best interest to touch as few things as possible.
“Ordinarily,” you can spin these barrels of gems. If they’re all spinning at once, look up. “Miners Only” may not be the clearest message to keep your hands off.
Here’s an example of where the positioning of the physical barriers doesn’t necessarily make a lot of sense. There are probably some number of fire codes that still need to be adhered to, and it’s probably not a coincidence that the rope is there across from this control booth on the left, but it isn’t like viruses follow instructions and just give up because you tried. Ordinarily, we’d be merging with FastPass+ ahead, which is where that door is coming in from.
FastPass+ is not offered at the moment, but rider switch and disability access work more or less as they did before. In most cases, guests using those systems will use the FastPass+ lines for faster access. Cast at each individual attraction will explain the specific details.
Even though I arrived 25 minutes later than I would have liked, I still basically walked right on Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. I’ve waited longer during numerous paid events, including Disney After Hours/Villains After Hours, and Early Morning Magic. The regular cost to attend all three of those would be about $400 with tax.
Most attractions now load differently. There are potentially a few exceptions, like Peter Pan’s Flight, where they should be able to fill every vehicle with the same number of people who would board under normal conditions. At Mine Train, they would typically seat me as a single individual with a person from another party. For example, the odd person out in a party of three would get stuck with me. That is very much no longer the case.
You will not share a row with anyone.
On most attractions, there will also be an empty row in front of you and behind you.
They do still put groups together, so the party of four in front of me is in the front car, or rows one and two, while I’m in row four. Row five is then empty and the rest of the rows fill in a similar fashion. The specifics aren’t necessarily that important. Cast members will tell you where to go based on the guidelines Disney has set forth. At no time did I feel like I was seated too close to another party, but I’m also very used to visiting theme parks as an ordinary guest. If you were less used to the hustle and bustle, you may feel differently.
If there is an occasion where things don’t “feel” quite right, you can certainly speak up and ask about an accommodation. They probably won’t give you the entire train to yourself, but they may be willing to skip an extra row. In the grand scheme of things, it’s impossible to say whether a specific set of circumstances led to your infection. If you’re feverishly trying to look up information on seating configurations and queues, it’s probably better to sit this one out. Things will also change as time goes by and Disney makes adjustments. They may also be more aggressive about seating guests closer together if crowds are larger and wait times become prohibitive.
During my visit, crowds were so low that there wasn’t much of an opportunity to get stressed out about anything. The capacity reductions inherent in physical distancing caused waits to be longer, but I never ran into anything approaching what I would consider to be unbearable.
Obviously, lines would move faster if cast filled every seat.
But under “normal” circumstances, we’d also be dealing with FastPass+ priority, which takes as much as 70% of a ride’s capacity away from standby anyway. If anything, more of a ride’s capacity now goes to standby, making standby waits shorter overall.
Summers at Walt Disney World have been “slow” for a few years now.
Obviously, circumstances are a lot different this year.
But the number of people willing and able to go to Walt Disney World in July hasn’t been high in some time.
But I’m not sure we’ve ever seen things quite as empty as what we see on the right. The Park looks like it isn’t even open, despite the fact that people have been inside for 45 minutes. Part of the reason why we don’t see more people is due to the trouble in getting across the water. Even so, on Sunday, July 12th, or a day after my visit, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train’s highest posted wait was 30 minutes over the course of the day. Its average wait is 85 minutes over the last five years. On the equivalent date last year, or the second Sunday in July, 2019, Mine Train hit 80 minutes at 9:15am, and peaked at a 145 minute wait. That’s 115 minutes longer than the same date this year. On the day of my visit, July 11th, the maximum posted wait for Mine Train was 40 minutes. That’s about a third of what’s normal.
As we exit Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, we can see again how close we’ll inevitably be to other people. Again, I’m far from an expert in epidemiology, I don’t even have a degree in Walt Disney World blogging, but it’s my understanding that we don’t need to be too concerned about being within reach of other masked individuals outside in the open air. But if you’re wondering if you’ll always be at least six feet away from people, or if that’s even really possible, the answer is a resounding no. The people entering the queue now will come within about two feet of us on the other side. If the queue were backed up, they’d be stuck standing there as we passed.
I was back out front at 9:04am, which meant my total experience time was 11 minutes. That’s the time from the moment I entered the queue until the moment I was back out in front of the attraction. That’s less time than the ride has historically taken with FastPass+.
In the next Part, we’ll continue with our day in Fantasyland, continuing on to The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and Peter Pan’s Flight, followed by Haunted Mansion and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.
I don’t want to spoil too much, but we’re not going to run into a whole lot of people for some time.